Complex Made Simple

Middle East companies have serious problem retaining staff

By Elie Georgiou-Botaris, Senior Consultant Talent and Rewards-Willis Towers Watson 

Middle East companies have a serious problem retaining staff. Compared to the rest of the world, employees in our region are far less likely to stay with their employer until they retire (24 percent), compared to a global average of 51 per cent, reports Willis Towers Watson Talent Management & Rewards and Global Workforce Studies.

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Offering the right training is becoming more and more essential to attract and keep top talent. But this is easier said than done.

Here we look at 3 things companies NEED to adopt when it comes to employee training:

1- Get technical: Both technology and the UAE’s demographics are changing fast, so the way we train employees needs to keep pace. The last decade has seen an influx of millennials into our marketplace, and they now form the largest segment of the UAE workforce. These people grew up with technology. They’re digital natives, who access information on the go – anytime, anywhere – and they expect changes to happen fast. Yet, in the 2016 WTW Global Management Trends survey, fewer than half of employees felt their companies were making effective use of technology in their L&D programmes.

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Millennials are our future leaders, so we need to be investing in technology as a key aspect of their career development. A good place to start is with mobile technology that allows ‘just in time’ learning, where the employee completes activities away from a learning group – via an app, for example. The instructor then receives the results ‘just in time’ for the next group learning session and is able to adapt the training based on the results.

2-Lead by example: But it’s important not to concentrate solely on one demographic. Yes, millennials are a vital part of our workforce, but we need to take care of L&D for our mid-level and senior employees too. The WTW Global Management Trends survey found that leadership is actually the main driver of sustainable engagement among employees. If our leaders aren’t engaged themselves, we can’t expect everyone else to be. Letting long-serving staff leave is also costly. At senior manager or executive level, the cost of turnover is around 74% of annual compensation.

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The L&D programmes offered to senior staff are different to those for millennials, who are just starting out and so require more generalised training. Senior employers need more focused and industry-specific development that they recognise as being ‘just for me’. Often more seasoned employees have a clearer picture of where they plan to take their career than the juniors, and see their L&D as a way to up-skill, or re-skill, to help meet specific goals.

As such, the place to start is by talking to them. WTW’s recent report Perspectives talked about the value of capturing employee opinion, and revealed that onboarding and exit surveys are a good place to start, enabling us to understand what new employees want and why established workers decide to leave. Focused surveys and progress checks should also be done on an ongoing basis, to monitor continuing changes in needs and skills.

It can be hard to cover all the ground at once, so consider tackling one area at a time. Or you might also think about introducing peer-to-peer learning or skill-swaps, where an employee with one desired talent trains others in return for instruction on a different area of expertise.

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3- The challenge: In WTW’s Global Management Trends survey, it was clear that retaining and attracting high performing workers was difficult in the Middle East. In more mature markets, 54 per cent of businesses reported problems attracting high-potential employees, but in our region this jumped to 71 per cent. And just under half of businesses found it hard to retain the talent they did attract.

One reason for this is failure to provide high-impact L&D. This means the training provided needs to be ‘just enough’. It should be challenging and not cover old ground, or the best employees may start to look elsewhere. Equally, it should not be so much of a burden that it takes up too much time. High-impact training is a good way to achieve this balance, and is useful for profit margins as well.